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Background: Originally, Washington’s Minimum Wage Act covered only non-agricultural workers. However, in 1988 voters approved Initiative 518, which changed the Minimum Wage Act to cover all workers employed in Washington state. Consequently, the state minimum wage is the same for both non-agricultural and agricultural workers.
In 1998, voters approved Initiative 688, which raised the minimum wage and required the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries to make a cost-of-living increase to the minimum wage each calendar year based on the federal Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).
The minimum wage for 2016 under Washington law is $9.47/hour. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act minimum wage is presently $7.25/hour. Washington employers must pay the higher of those rates. In addition, some municipalities such as Seattle and Tacoma have enacted higher minimum wage rates in their jurisdictions. Employers subject to those laws must pay the highest minimum wage required. Continue reading Initiative 1433 – Minimum Wage Increase and Paid Sick Leave Mandate
After a regular 105-day session followed by three 30-day special sessions, the Legislature called it quits for 2017 (so far). These special sessions come as no surprise, as over the past several years the divided Legislature has typically needed special sessions to resolve its business. However, 2017 set a record for the number of days the Legislature was in session.
During the regular session, lawmakers agreed on a bipartisan 2017-19 transportation budget. They reached agreement on the biennial operating budget hours before a June 30th deadline, averting a state government shutdown. Included in that budget package was an education funding plan designed to meet the Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate primarily through a state levy swap. A reduction of the B&O tax rate on manufacturers that was included in the budget deal was subsequently vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee, instilling further acrimony into an already bitterly divided and opaque budget process. Continue reading 2017 Legislative Session Recap
Proposed H-2A Expansion
The House Appropriations Committee recently approved an amendment containing a proposal to allow farm employers to use the H-2A visa program to hire foreign workers, regardless of whether those employees are engaged in temporary or seasonal work. Congressman Dan Newhouse sponsored the proposal so that dairy farmers can more readily use the H-2A visa program to fill their need for year-round workers.
For more information, click here for the news release from National Milk.
If you are interested in finding out what the political opposition is saying, check out this post.
New Ag Guest Worker Bill
On a related note, the House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing [https://judiciary.house.gov/hearing/agricultural-guestworkers-meeting-growing-needs-american-agriculture/] recently on agricultural guest workers. Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is expected to introduce his ag immigration reform bill soon. According to reports, the Agricultural Guestworker Act will replace the H-2A system with a new H-2C system. The program would be administered by USDA and would serve the more diverse needs of dairy, food processing, and other year-round operations. Visas for existing and incoming workers would be up to 36 months long, and workers would have more portability and flexibility through working under contract or at will.
We will know more about the details of the proposal once a draft of it is released. Meanwhile, here is a link to Chairman Goodlatte’s statement about the bill.
Finally, the President Trump, flanked by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) at a White House ceremony, announced new legislation to reduce legal immigration to the United States. The Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act would reduce by 50 percent the number of people who can receive legal permanent resident status and would require English-language proficiency.
Proponents say the bill would move the United States to a “merit-based” immigration system and away from the current model, which is largely based on family ties.
Critics are concerned that curbing legal immigration will harm U.S. economic growth.
For more information on the RAISE Act, read this article.